Red Carpet Treatment

Remember how good it felt to sit on the back seat of the school bus for the first time? To be initiated into the ranks of the back seat brigade meant you were accepted, and being there made you feel socially bulletproof. Crazy really. It’s really no different from the rest of the bus, and the hierachy is artificial in the extreme, but it doesn’t make the phenomenon any less real — undoubtedly, the back of the bus is an ultra-exclusive VIP area.

The reason why I bring up the bus anecdote is to illustrate the fact that all of us have an innate understanding of the power of VIP areas — how they motivate people, how they alter their behaviour and, if understood, improve your business.

And as I write this editorial, VIP areas could hardly be more topical. The Spring Racing Carnival is in full gallop and anyone who’s anyone can be seen sashaying/swaggering around Flemington’s Bird Cage, sipping on something exotic in one of the ‘marquees’. Why does Lexus, Motorola or Air Emirates spend so much dosh entertaining the rich and anorexic? To understand that is to understand the value of any well-conceived VIP zone.

First and foremost, VIP areas should attract and retain the type of people other people like to be around. This attraction turns into a virtuous circle — people come back, they dress up a little more, they spend a little more, they do what it takes to maintain their part in that inner sanctum, and all the while the hoi-polloi beyond the velvet rope steal wistful glances to catch a glimpse of what life might be like in the social holy of holies.

Nightclub owners are all too aware of the need for VIP areas. The atmosphere of a nightclub is necessarily aspirational — you’re compelled to dress up, there’s the danger of not being allowed access, and once you’re in, it’s all about preening, prancing and staking your claim in the social pecking order. Nightclub VIP areas give patrons a reason to return and, hopefully, gain access to the ranks of the chosen few. That’s why the best nightclub VIP areas offer views, but can’t, in turn, be viewed — even if the VIP chamber is totally empty, the other punters can only speculate as to what manner of champagne-popping, cigar-chomping hi-jinks the privileged few are getting up to.

This issue, in Cat Strom’s eye-popping account of the Miami’s nightclub scene, I notice one club (the Pawn Shop) sporting a VIP caravan. What a great idea! It’s got privacy, seclusion and maybe even a chemical loo! But the VIP ‘trailer’ got me thinking about what can and can’t constitute a VIP area. Certainly the VIP concept doesn’t need to adhere to the traditional back room paradigm, and needn’t be the preserve of the nightclub. Essentially, it’s simply an area in any venue that people attach a premium value to.

For example, the GPO Restaurant (see page 78) made a large Jimmy Possum table as part of its original fitout, and it’s proven to be very popular and very often specially booked — it’s no more expensive to eat there, but there’s a premium attached to its occupancy. Thinking about it, the Jimmy Possum table ticks most of the main VIP boxes — it’s exclusive (the only table of its kind in the restaurant), aspirational (‘wonder if I could book that table next time?’) and good for business (‘I’ll get some friends together so we have the numbers to book the table’) — even if it isn’t cosseted away in a back room. And that’s just one restaurant. For another venue, VIP status might be accorded to a couch near the open fireplace, or the best table on a balcony or deck, or it might be a corner banquette… the list goes on.

There’s nothing egalitarian about ‘going out’. Women are constantly eyeing-off the ‘competition’ and men are programmed to keep an eye on the ladies and quickly decide who the alpha male is in the group. So it’s fruitless to try and make your venue egalitarian — where one size fits all, with the same seating, same views, same service, etc etc.

Most readers will already instinctively understand this and deal with the implications every day. But I’d still urge people to actively milk the VIP phenomenon to your advantage. Even if you don’t currently have a VIP zone (whatever that might entail) then pretend that you do! If a gaggle of young ladies enters your establishment looking for a great night out, then make a point of showing them to a ‘special’ lounge and promise them ‘special’ treatment. Then be amazed how the lounge — that was so ordinary 24 hours ago — is then later requested or booked. Bingo! We have a VIP area. – CH

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